By Heather A. Goesch, MPH, RDN, LDN
The average American does not meet many of the recommendations outlined in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Regarding fruit and vegetables, recent research shows that while overall intake has increased since 1970, daily totals still fall short . As a result of this under-consumption, roughly 40% of the US population does not consume enough potassium, fiber, calcium, magnesium, vitamins A, C, D or E, and folate .
Convenient and inexpensive canned fruit and vegetables (as well as canned beans, lentils and seafood) can help us come closer, and hopefully meet, these goals.
In a study looking at the eating habits of more than 40,000 American adults and children, those whose diets contained canned varieties of fruit and vegetables (in comparison to those whose diets did not) had greater overall intake of fruit, vegetables and key nutrients . And for the roughly 11.5 million Americans who live in low-income areas more than one mile from a supermarket , canned products offer a long shelf-life and good nutrition for a low cost.
What makes canned fruit and vegetables so good?
Canned shortly after picking produce at the peak of ripeness ensures best fresh flavor and texture, and maximum nutritional retention. The process of canning actually helps enhance the nutrient profile of certain foods, such as canned tomatoes, which contain significantly higher amounts of the heart-healthy phytochemical lycopene than fresh tomatoes.
But canned goods are ‘processed’ – aren’t we told to avoid processed foods?
The practice of ‘processing’ foods ranges from minimal to heavy processing. Canned green beans, for example, are processed to lock in freshness and nutrient quality. Even the versions with one or two additional ingredient ‘additives’ are considered “basic processed.” To compare, fresh green beans at farm stand or supermarket are “unprocessed,” and those that have only been washed and packaged in a bag or container for convenience are “minimally processed.”
In general, canned versions of fruit and vegetables are on the low end of the ‘processing’ continuum, and should absolutely be thought of as a convenient, inexpensive and nutritious part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Should I be concerned about the additives in some canned fruit and vegetables, or the can itself?
Among the common one or two additional ingredients mentioned above is salt – in canned vegetables at least – and some contain upwards of 300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per serving. The Dietary Guidelines’ recommendation is no more than 2,300 mg sodium per day, or no more than 1,500 mg for those with hypertension or heart disease. (May be lower for individuals on other sodium-restricted diets, such as those with kidney disease.) Always look for cans labeled “Reduced/Low Sodium” or “No Salt/Sodium Added,” and rinse in a colander under cool water before using.
Sugar is another addition, particularly to fruits, and can be as much as 6 grams per 1/2-cup serving! Look for cans of fruit labeled “No Sugar Added” or “Packed in Water.” If you can only find “Packed in Lite Syrup” or “Packed in Heavy Syrup,” do as you would with the vegetables and rinse the fruit in a colander under cool water before using.
Citric acid or calcium chloride are two other additives you may come across in canned fruit and vegetables. Both are considered safe to consume and are used in very small amounts with the purpose of preserving color and texture, respectively.
If you’re concerned about BPA (bisphenol A), there are now quite a few brands of BPA-free canned goods. Alternatively, fruit and vegetables in cardboard containers as opposed to cans are naturally BPA-free. (Read more about BPA in this Food & Nutrition Magazine article.)
1. Bentley J. (3 July 2017) Retrieved from: https://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2017/july/us-diets-still-out-of-balance-with-dietary-recommendations/. USDA Economic Research Service. Accessed 5 November 2017.
2. USDA. (2015) Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Advisory Report to the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Agriculture. Retrieved from: https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/PDFs/Scientific-Report-of-the-2015-Dietary-Guidelines-Advisory-Committee.pdf. Accessed 5 November 2017.
3. Freedman MR, Fulgoni V. Canned Vegetable and Fruit Consumption Is Associated with Changes in Nutrient Intake and Higher Diet Quality in Children and Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001-2010. Jour of Acad Nutr Diet. 2016 Jun;116(6):940-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2015.10.013. Epub 2015 Nov 24.
4. USDA Economic Research Service. (2009) Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food: Measuring and Understanding Food Deserts and Their Consequences. Report to Congress. Retrieved from: https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/42711/12716_ap036_1_.pdf?v=41055. Accessed 4 November 2017.